02 Sep 2015

Voting for Optimism in Baltimore

by April White


If you had asked Calvin Young (MBA 2015) what he’d be doing after his graduation from HBS, he wouldn’t have answered “politics.” But earlier this month, the mechanical engineer and newly minted MBA announced his candidacy for mayor of Baltimore, his hometown and the site of recent protests.

The 27-year-old African-American candidate will face current mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, former mayor Sheila Dixon, and a growing field of other candidates in the April Democratic primary, which has historically served as a predictor of the citywide mayoral election results. He took a moment from his fledgling campaign to talk about business, politics, and what we should consider when we think of youth in Baltimore.

Why do you want to be mayor of Baltimore?

I want to be a counterpoint for Baltimore and what our city has heard about itself for a very long time, and especially this year. When you think of Baltimore, you think of crime, you think of drugs, you think of homicides—of people who don’t have jobs. When you think of young people here and what they are capable of, you don’t think they could go to Harvard Business School. I want to be able to show folks that all young people should be able to do that, especially from places like Baltimore.

In Authentic Leadership Development, I realized my purpose is to bring realistic optimism to worthy causes. And if I’m going to do that, I have to start in my own home and my own city. After coming back [to Baltimore] after graduation and reconnecting with the community, being able to walk the streets and talk to leaders, I saw that there is an opportunity for a real galvanization of optimism. People have an optimism and motivation to make a difference. What was missing was the leadership.

In what ways did HBS prepare you to be mayor of Baltimore?

At NYU, I learned that being a mechanical engineer is about taking things that wouldn’t normally be able to do something and putting them together in a way that makes them work. HBS taught me strategy and how to do things economically. And the case method teaches you how to organize your thoughts in complex situations and confidently articulate your thoughts.

For today’s political environment, especially here in Baltimore, we need somebody who can do both of those things. Somebody who can intelligently look at something and say “we can make something happen out of this that most people wouldn’t think can be done” and also know how to do that in an economically scalable way so that it can benefit the entire community.

What is the single most important issue for the new mayor to address in Baltimore?

The most urgent thing right now is public safety. That is a multi-faceted problem that includes reducing the drug trade and its effect on homicides in the city while, at the same time, improving processes within the police department. When people can’t expect the police to do certain things, it causes the animosity that we’re seeing. What’s urgent is to fix those problems so that the police can do their jobs and everyone can have a safer place to live and work.

The most important thing is stimulating an economic renaissance in Baltimore, and that means jobs for the systemically unemployed and opportunities for youth who are coming up in today’s Baltimore. People have to be educated so they can work in a 21st century economy. That is the issue that, once solved, can be the tide that lifts all boats in Baltimore.

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 2015, Section F

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